The Euthanasia Slippery Slope: A Case Study, this morning’s post, has attracted a wider range of opinion than I expected. I considered attaching a poll to the original post; now I’m going to go a step farther, and base that poll on a hypothetical of the kind that I use in my legal ethics seminars.
Speaking of those, on Tuesday, September 17, in Richmond, VA, and Wednesday, September 18, in Fairfax, VA, I’ll be presenting “The Greatest Legal Ethics Seminar Ever Taught!” for three hours of legal ethics CLE credit to Virginia lawyers and others. The title reflects, other than my own warped sense of humor (“The Greatest Story Ever Told” is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen), the fact that the legal ethics hypotheticals being discussed cover what I have found to be many of the most contentious, fascinating legal ethics issues extant over 20 years of doing these things. Moreover, I am being joined by my friend and colleague, John May, who approached these issues from the perspective of a practical litigator as well as one who often defends lawyers accused of ethical improprieties. He’s also one combative and clever pain in the ass who loves disagreeing with me, so I recommend bringing popcorn. The details are here.
Now here’s your hypothetical:
Your older sister Tess, a bright, productive woman in her forties, has fallen into depression after learning that she is suffering from premature, progressive dementia, though she is otherwise in good health. There is no cure, though you have researched her condition and know that researchers have made some major break-throughs. A cure, or at least drugs that can slow down the condition or temporarily reverse it, seems like it may be on the near horizon, but nothing is certain.
Six months ago, your sister executed a document that stated that when she had to be institutionalized, and when she believed it was time, she consented to being euthanized. (She lives in a jurisdiction that has legalized assisted suicide) Now she has reached the point where her family can no longer care for her. She has good days and bad days, and on bad days she does not recognize her family members and makes little sense. On her good days she is lucid, and on one of them, not too long ago, she confirmed that the document she had signed still reflected her wishes.
Less than a week after she has been admitted, her physician at the facility says that she has been declining rapidly, and is in a perpetual state of confusion, anger, delusion and terror. She has never said that this is time to carry out her wishes to be euthanized, but there is no doubt that this is the state she dreaded, and that she would regard this as “time” were she able to think clearly. You are called to the facility, where you learn that she has been given a sedative (surreptitiously, since she is deep in paranoia). Your family members tell you that they are relieved that this is nearing a resolution, for they do not have the resources to continue paying for the current comfortable facility. If your sister continued to live, she would have to be transferred to what your brother call “a hell hole.”
The doctor says that he is about to administer a lethal injection, and asks you and your brother to assist him, as he believes she might resist. Does she ever! Your sister screams as soon she sees the doctor approach, “Stop him! He’s going to kill me!” You try to reason with your sister, even producing the document she signed. “isn’t this what you want”? you ask. “I don’t know who the hell you are!” she responds, her eyes wide in hysteria. Your brother and an orderly are restraining her as she thrashes in the bed. She cries pathetically, “I want to live! I don’t want to die! Help me! Someone help me!”
The doctor prepares to deliver the injection.
Your poll question is…